A More Pertinent Challenge to Anonymous Voices
We’ve just been through an extensive discussion about a single offhand remark, made privately to Rabbi Adlerstein, concerning a single comment on a single website, read uncharitably, from which we then extrapolate an entire “train of thought” which, with no further evidence, we are to assume is endemic to the charedi community — and whether that Torah personality’s offhand remark should have been made publicly, and further, whether the failure to make said remark publicly reflects a fear of Gedolim to speak their minds. The best reaction to this was probably that of the writer using the moniker kman: “Maybe it’s just me, but we have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
Having just quoted someone who contributed using a moniker, I’m going to criticize the practice. There is a discussion about anonymity that is long overdue, but that one wasn’t it.
Put succinctly, I think the use of pen names has reduced the overall quality of comments and level of dialogue of this journal. This is not universally true, but I believe that if one weighs the cost and benefit, anonymous comments have done more harm than good.
A few months ago, I prevailed upon Eytan Kobre to start contributing again. He told me that the consistent negativity of the comments was, in fact, the reason why he found Cross-Currents a less than ideal outlet for his thoughts. He didn’t want to close the door on comments, as Rabbi Shafran does, or completely ignore them like Rabbi Rosenblum. So the appropriate way to avoid “snarky” comments was not to post at all.
I encouraged him to try an alternative: to post, but with the condition that any comments not be anonymous. And lo and behold, a productive discussion ensued.
Actually, that’s not quite true. One of our moderators didn’t get the memo, and allowed through a pair of anonymous comments — and Eytan noted that he’d gotten snarky comments again. But when those two comments were “unapproved,” all was well. There was a perfect correlation between anonymous and obnoxious; get rid of one, and no further efforts were required to rid ourselves of the other.
Something similar happened with one of my own posts. I received a brief, disrespectful, snarky comment that said obviously I feel X… when, had the poor fellow read the previous comments, he’d have seen me clearly state the opposite. And from the real email address accompanying the fake name, the author was a medical doctor, who’d clearly have been embarrassed to have his name and reputation associated with an obvious lack of reading comprehension. Rather than waste 15 minutes explaining that the sun rises in the east, I trashed the comment. The same “contribution” that reflected insufficient grasp of the material carried with it all the “snark” in the comment thread when it left.
Coincidentally (though of course, nothing is coincidence), shortly after composing my initial draft of this post, I received the latest issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, containing an article about the Daily Princetonian‘s debate about this very subject. University President Shirley Tilghman wrote the following in a letter to the editor:
Anonymity invites candor, to be sure, but it also invites thoughtlessness, not to mention malice and spite. In an academic community like ours, anonymous comments strike me as entirely out of place. The Honor Code demands that students ‘own their words’ in their academic work.
The counterargument expressed by the graduating former editor-in-chief (besides the inappropriate assertion that Tilghman’s letter was an “attempt to limit the paper’s freedom”) pointed out that professors may risk their jobs by commenting, alumni “have careers and public images that they might not want tied to their opinions on the University,” and students “know every person involved in most of the paper’s articles.” But a Professor (of Journalism) expressed distate with the “bullying and the crudeness and the trolls,” while acknowledging that anonymity helps in some contexts.
Note that it was the students who advocated for (and, it being the student paper, ultimately decided in favor of) retaining anonymous comments, while the more mature voices were more troubled by the negative effects. Just saying. But it is possible to be more discerning, because anonymous comments fall into perhaps three general categories, and it’s usually not difficult to distinguish between them:
Sometimes a person is sharing a personal story which they do not wish to share under their own name. There is an autobiographical serial right now in Ami Magazine from someone who survived a brain tumor, to cite one example. He undoubtedly does not wish to be defined by his illness, rather than as a Rebbe and social worker. Similarly, people often share stories of kindness done to them, but don’t want to be identified as the recipients. This is all understandable and welcome.
A second category comprises those who want to offer an opinion, but don’t want that opinion to affect them professionally — similar to the professors and alumni commenting to “The Prince.” We have, by this time, received requests from former commenters who, having moved into the professional world, no longer want their professional reputation colored by their youthful opinions. I think this is similarly understandable.
It is the third category that is insidious and harmful. These are the armchair critics, those who wish not merely to state their own opinion, but to criticize others, yet to do so from behind an anonymous pen name. As I said in a comment several days ago, anonymity shields these writers from self-reflection, humility, and careful judgment.
It also permits them to engage in behavior which is, in a word, impermissible. We have something much stronger than Princeton’s Honor Code that must govern how we speak and write, and how we sign our names makes no difference. In just a few more decades, no longer than a century for almost all writers, we will have to answer for pain and embarrassment caused to others. Anonymity will be no excuse, and even worse, the anonymous writer might be unwilling to shed that anonymity in order to beg forgiveness in this lifetime. Halbonas Panim is akin to murder, and anonymity is all too often an accessory to the crime.
As a (named) commenter said recently, explaining why he sometimes will comment anonymously, “I find I have to worry a lot less about my language choice, whether someone will be offended.” That, of course, is exactly the point. You should be thinking about the tenor of your words, of whether you are, in fact, being offensive. Disagreement is fine, but civility is the overriding issue, and the anonymous writer seems vastly more likely to transgress the bounds of civil discourse (and halacha).
This leads me, at least for my own posts, to react to anonymous comments based upon content. If you want to share a personal story anonymously, that’s fine. And if you want to share an idea, a thought, a question, that’s probably fine as well. But if someone criticizes another opinion, a group of Jews, Gedolim, etc., much less belittles another writer or commenter, then that’s using anonymity to “troll,” shielded from the repercussions of whatever nonsense the commenter might happen to spew… and we can strive for better than that. To those who wish to do so, I have but two words of advice: don’t bother. Those are the “contributions” for which the “trash” moderation option was designed, and I believe the overall effect will benefit us if we use it more, not less.
Posting anonymously is actually advantageous for mature and thoughtful dialogue. When one posts his real name on a comment his ego inevitably gets involved. He will often justify his previous posts or comments so as not to lose face and publicly lose an argument. Many times real name posters will engage in all types of justifications and rationalizations that would otherwise be moot points if they would have posted anonymously.
Cross Currents is a moderated site. “Snarky” comments don’t have to be posted, but not every comment that makes a critical point sharply and forcefully is “snarky” even if it is unpleasant for the author of the article to be challenged in such a way.
Well said, Rabbi Menken.
I ignore any comments that are non-named and have stopped reading posts that closed to comments.
Think before typing, stand by your opinions (right or wrong) & investigate facts for accuracy.
I remain Mrs. Caren V. May (cvmay)
“He will often justify his previous posts or comments so as not to lose face and publicly lose an argument”.
AND what is the big deal about losing face(to whom?) & publicly lose an argument (therefore)?? Is this a gender issue or for real?
Rabbi Menken and I are usually far apart, but on this issue I have to say that I agree with him. I generally find that the snarkiest and nastiest comments are the anonymous ones. Having said that, I do not agree that R. Shafran should be allowed to post, while not allowing any comments at all. By all means, let him insist that no comments be anonymous, but to allow him ban all comments is your giving him and he giving himself a free pass.
I also agree with the second paragraph of “Crazy Kanoly” (not the first). Not every sharply worded critical comment is necessarily “snarky.” I do believe, however, that those who post anonymously have a SPECIAL obligation to use a moderate tone. Generally, alas, as I already noted above, the opposite occurs.
I am fine with requiring people to use their real names.
I agree with Dr. Kaplan’s entire first paragraph.
It is interesting that the cloak of anonymity allows otherwise religious folks to shed their mentchlichkeit – reminds me of the gemara in moed katan but in the new world where everything is public:
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מועד קטן דף יז עמוד א
רבי אילעאי אומר: אם רואה אדם שיצרו מתגבר עליו – ילך למקום שאין מכירין אותו, וילבש שחורים ויתעטף שחורים, ויעשה מה שלבו חפץ, ואל יחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא.
Rabbi Ilay says:If one sees that his Evil Inclination is getting the better of him, he should go to a place where no one knows him and there he should dress in black and wrap himself in black and do what his heart desires, and he shouldn’t blasphemise God’s name publicly.
It may be that “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” (Peter Steiner ) but they do know you represent frumkeit.
as someone who has posted almost always under a cover name, i do so b/c of the very delicate psition i hold in a communal mosad. i have always made the effort to be respectful and never posted “snarky” comments , but would be unable to post my honest thoughts on many topics if i had to do so by name.
As someone who posts exclusively under a pen name, I follow two rules.
One: I never make a comment that I wouldn’t own up to if it were attached to my real name.
Two: I never attack anyone personally. Besides for such behavior being against my nature, it’s unfair to take a swing at someone from the cover of shadows.
Some postings make me want to punch a hole in my monitor, but I try my best to tone my replies down and stick to facts. I do resent authors who rule out comments on articles I see as ill-informed or even outrageous. I’ve tried to stop reading such pieces here.
For professional reasons, I choose to post anonymously. There was one occasion where I made an exception and posted by my actual name when something I published was the subject of a thread.
Some moderators with access to my actual e-mail address have taken advantage of this to “check me out” and make public pronouncements on this blog about institutional affiliations I may once have had (and, on the basis of said former affiliations, publically presume to [erroneously] divine my worldview).
If we post anonymously, please respect this–it is not done lightly. Others on this thread have made good points about its value.
May I propose a solution far more ethical: that a 3rd party with no connection to the moderators vet all e-mail addresses to ensure they are legitimate. This would ensure true anonymity while giving the moderators peace of mind that they are not being spammed.
[YA – It is likely that I am the offending party. I hereby publicly apologize for indeed making assumptions about your worldview. It was the wrong thing to do. However, I would be less than truthful if I did not add that I am glad that you describe those presumptions of mine to have been erroneous.]
How can you know if a name is a real name or a pen name unless you ask for a copy of a driver’s license. I can register an e-mail address of MenachemCohen at gmail, post under the name Menachem Cohen and really I am Batsheva Levy. It may be a nice sentiment, but not enforceable.
To add a tad of snark, is a post that quotes an anonymous source allowed? If so, why are they different?
I agree, though, that turning off all comments is wrong. I rarely read a certain contributor’s articles because comments are not allowed.
Thank you, Rabbi Menken, for touching on an important subject, one (as you noted and as has apparently frustrated several commenters here) that I have addressed in a somewhat radical way – by simply disallowing comments on my own postings. My reasons for that decision can be read at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/07/09/a-note-to-cross-current-readers/ .
I do, however, invite readers with comments or criticisms to send them to me personally, and I provide my e-mail address at the end of each posting for that express purpose. What I find intriguing and telling is that, over the years since I instituted my “no comments” policy, I have received no more than 4 communications from Cross-Currents readers. (I receive scores each month from e-mail subscribers to my columns.) What that indicates to me is that many commenters here who protest my personal policy may not really wish to have a constructive dialogue (I responded, of course, to each of those 4 communications, and some of them became interactive conversations) but rather only to publicly vent. I don’t feel any obligation to provide them that opportunity; there are many places on the web that can serve that purpose. And the dearth of meaningful personal responses to my postings here only strengthens my conviction that my decision was the right one.
Needless to say, I fully appreciate the ideal of a public forum for discussing, politely and responsibly, any thought that I offer. In fact, noting pleases me more than to stimulate such discussion – even (especially!) if it takes issue with my point of view. I cherish other points of view, as they help me hone my own. Alas, I have not found that that ideal polite and responsible public forum is what actually happens in the real world.
Needless to say, Cross-Currents can choose to institute a policy requiring that postings be open to public comment. But if that were to be done, and inadequate controls were put in place to undermine lashon hora, hotzo’as shem ra, lashon snark and contempt for individuals or groups, I would have to stop posting my pieces on the site.
“inadequate controls were put in place to undermine lashon hora, hotzo’as shem ra, lashon snark and contempt for individuals or groups”
That is an excellent suggestion yet always results in SUBJECTIVITY.
Those 4 catagories are interpreted differently even according to halacha, for toeles, in front of a group of more than 3 etc..? Most authors’ posts have somewhat of a subjective lean to it, which is expected according to who we are, what we are representing and which is our public stance? Comments have a value; to measure and assess public opinion…..IF dialogue and communication holds value to the writer, speaker, leader or politician.
On the issue of anonymity, it’s more than simply an issue of bravery, as in signing a letter to the editor in a paper, since the internet can be accessed years later. Some people may be more well-established, and might not care opining on a particular issue. Others, especially in the tight-knit frum community, may not want their opinions known to the entire world on, say, the Age of the Universe, as it might change with time.
That said, I agree with R. Menken that as far as the cost and benefit on the entire internet, anonymous comments have done more harm than good. The future obviously can’t be predicted. R. Yaakov Horowitz, for example, wrote in Mishpacha in December, 2007 that ” I think of the Internet not in terms of a mobile red-light district, but rather like the Haskalah on steroids”; this is helped by anonymity. Similarly, the Agudah titled one of it’s Shabbos convetion programs this year “Embracing Emunah in a Madhouse of Kefirah”, which seems to be referring to the emotional aspect of the internet or even offline writings, “steroids”, in RYH’s term, or “intellectual equivalent of road rage” as R. Jonathan Sacks said about certain well-known atheists in a lecture (after all, there were and are plenty of brillant kofrim who can not be said to “mad” in the sense of being stupid). However, R. Horowitz was writing five years ago, and it’s obviously not possible to know with certainty to what degree his assessment will be true five years from now.
while r menken’s ideas may be true, it must be considered that the ‘snarky’ comments may not always represent no opinion base . when other avenues are closed , it will burst out somewhere . the official aguda anti-blog position eg seems not to be that the blogs are anonymous–many are not . it’s the facts presented they don’t like. look, certain issues can only be covered up so long……
Rabbi Shafran wrote above,
“…over the years since I instituted my “no comments” policy, I have received no more than 4 communications from Cross-Currents readers. (I receive scores each month from e-mail subscribers to my columns.) What that indicates to me is that many commenters here who protest my personal policy may not really wish to have a constructive dialogue…”
Some comments here, including some of mine, are not meant to initiate a private dialogue with the author, but to reject the author’s claims or arguments outright, for the benefit of the full readership.
According to the “about us” section on this website, “Cross-Currents is a journal of thought and reflections, from an array of Orthodox Jewish writers. We post about issues of the day and issues of our days, representing our individual perspectives.”
My interpretation of this statement is that Cross-Currents is a place to come and hear authentic Orthodox Jewish perspectives on issues of the day. If that is an accurate summation of the mission of cross-currents, I would say that in most cases the comments detract from this; they are mostly critiques of the writer’s position, not communication from those who want to clairify the points made and learn more about why the writer takes the positions that he or she does. Why do I need to know that so and so, who may be anonomous or not, disagrees or agrees with stated position?
I second Bob Miller’s objection to Rabbi Shafran’s “no comments” policy. This is the very reason “letters to the Editor” are published in the same publication in which the original article appeared and not simply forwarded to the author for private dialogue. I call upon Rabbi Shafran to reconsider his policy in light of the measures that can be taken to eliminate snarky comments.
“My interpretation of this statement is that Cross-Currents is a place to come and hear authentic Orthodox Jewish perspectives on issues of the day…Why do I need to know that so and so, who may be anonomous or not, disagrees or agrees with stated position?”
It also says in that posting “we believe in a way of life that can survive scrutiny and critique”. If there are no comments, then the authors will have to critique their own postings 🙂
I think there’s a far more mundane explanation for why commenters may prefer to post anonymously, and I’m kind of surprised no one’s mentioned it yet. We’re commenting on company time!
Because he receives little email, Rabbi Shafran concludes “that many commenters here who protest my personal policy may not really wish to have a constructive dialogue.”
I think he might be missing the point. Readers don’t necessarily want to dialogue exclusively with him. The purpose of this blog, one presumes, is to have a constructive dialogue with many people at once, something that an email exchange with the author does not produce.
At the same time I would appreciate the ‘ menschlighkeit’ of the moderator where the reason is not so obvious to inform the poster why the comment was not allowed. I have mailed to the those in charge of this site and never ever got a response
Rabbi Menken wrote above, that “…Cross-Currents is a place to come and hear authentic Orthodox Jewish perspectives on issues of the day…”
The issues of the day addressed here have included US politics. I question whether the political assertions by every author here have always come from an authentic Orthodox Jewish perspective, as opposed to the author’s own cultural or political biases or other such factors. To make any of these assertions immune from direct comment goes too far. I’ve read some things in this category that were demonstrably false or misleading (maybe the author was unaware of that).
[That wasn’t me. That’s another problem with monikers, it’s more likely they will overlap. What it actually says in “About Us” is that what you get is “our individual perspectives.” Should I use RYM from now on, or insist that YM change his moniker? — YM, as in Yaakov Menken, who is not the commenter calling himself “YM.”]
I thought I would never say this, but I am in agreement with Dovid Kornreich. The purpose of a blog is public discussion. By all means let Rabbi Shafran insist that no commentators be anonymous and on more rigorous moderation. But, as it is, he simply seeks to shield himself from public criticism and scrutiny.
Also, it is not hard to make up a name and a gmail address, and then anonymously post your brains out. We have no idea if Lawrence Kaplan is real, Dovid Kornreich, or even Yitzchak Adlerstein.
Maybe the anonymous commenters need to register their aliases
1. to avoid duplication
2. so at least the management knows who they are
This discussion of anonymous commenters is absurd. It is trivially easy to create a fake real sounding name (Moshe Katz for example), create a gmail account (or not), and post comments. At least with a ‘fake’ name (Crazy Kanoi) we know the person is using a fake name. Not that it makes any difference, the content of the comment is what is relevant, not the name of the person posting (unless it’s someone famous).
What the second Daniel (and Gershon) have written is quite mistaken; I can only hope that the first Daniel isn’t correct about people misusing company time to post comments! But as far as the second Daniel — because of who and how well-read we are, had we permitted him to comment with the “name” field he submitted (by contrast to his signature at the bottom), we would’ve heard about it and had to correct it.
It is true that anyone can make up a totally fake name, but that is sufficiently complex and rare — and the honest truth is that you can very often tell by the content. With apologies to those who don’t see the difference in tenor, it’s obvious even when unintended — someone pointed me to a “response” to my post in which the person first denies there’s a difference, and then proceeds to make an arrogant claim of personal genius that anyone with a name would be embarrassed to make. If it’s an unknown person that we’ve never heard from before, we might well assume it’s a moniker and treat the comment accordingly; if we have heard from the person before, it’s easy enough (for us) to know that, for example, the two Daniels are quite distant from each other.
Allan Katz is invited to reread our “Comments and Tips” page. I don’t recall if I was the moderator who deleted any of his comments, but perhaps the moderator in question thought it was indeed obvious, or just didn’t care to respond. We say at the outset that you might not receive an explanation.
As for Rabbi Shafran’s policy, I would point out that one of the most well-known and effective blogs out there doesn’t permit comments at all. We are striving for a higher level of both writing and gravitas than blogs — despite our “In Brief” section, many of our writers’ articles appear in print elsewhere, and even when we write uniquely for Cross-Currents, it’s still more edited and less rushed than what “bloggers” churn out. So it’s completely fair for one of our writers to say that he’s not willing to invest the additional time necessary to engage in public debate. Rabbi Shafran reads his email, responds, and often does take replies into account in future pieces. So much as I would hope he’d find the time to open comments once in a while, I don’t think one can object. No one forces you to read what we have to say, after all!
We can jointly critique Shakespeare to good effect without any direct response from the author.
a commentor elsewhere on the topic of anonymity wrote—–
I would never, ever express my real opinions under my real name. I have kids I want to get into yeshiva.
—- therein lays the perception [fact?] . besides RYA’s adam gadol , who is silenced , the haredi-man-in-the-street is too
the problem? that the haredi Power Structure then thinks that all are 100% buying in …it aint neccesarily so….
Bob Miller, Rabbi Menken has never used the moniker “YM”; I don’t think anyone else has used it besides myself.
I agree with you about the political commentary. FWIW, I don’t think political commentary devoid of some sort of hashkafic or torah angle belongs on this site.
1. “not meant to initiate a private dialogue with the author, but to reject the author’s claims or arguments outright, for the benefit of the full readership” —— 100% in agreement
2. “hear authentic Orthodox Jewish perspectives on issues of the day”- The comments section offers authentic Orthodox Jewish perspectives on issues of the day from either named or anonymous individuals.
Can a turn-about be done on this post? If we are analyzing the pluses & minuses of real names, fake names, anonymous names for comments……I find that writers who post on issues that they have zero/or close to zero knowledge about, should skip the subject, no matter how popular & trendy it is and do the research, investigative questioning & stop the typical sterotyping and generalizations.
For instance, many writers gave an ‘authentic Orthodox Jewish Perspective” on the Gaza disengagement WITHOUT ever going to visit, meeting/interviewing people who lived there or spending some valued time in the communities. Or the Emanuel Bais Yakov issue WITHOUT doing research about the last five years of the Beis Yakov, interviewing parents from both Beis Yakov schools, visiting and checking out the tzinuus, rules & regulations and questioning several Rabbanim who live there. Or the Mercaz Harav Massacre,, writers posted ideas, feelings WITHOUT attending the funerals, paying Nichum Avelim visits, spending time speaking to the talmidim there, or meeting with Harav Yerachmiel Weiss (principal). Or the yearly write-up about Yad V’shem on Yom Hashoah? How many commenters, writers have taken the Torah Tour of Yad VShem by Rabbi Henoch Teller, Debbie Spero or other frum tour guides.. No, no, much easier to just repeat the yearly rubbish rather then reinvestigate, research or check it out. Or the latest Bet Shemesh fiasco between Chassidim and young girls who attend a religious school…did you see the school**? visit and meet the talmidos? observe and inquiry about the tzinus rules at the school? talk to the menaheles and teachers YET a perspective will be written (nevertheless).
You will find that many posts have a cultural/religious leaning before the first paragraph unravels. I recall a prominent & popular writer for several publications writing “only Bratslavors, Kookniks, and Carlbachers do it that way” or “No one in the Charedi camp has ever visited or spent time in Gush Katif” (yeah u sure, what about the Bostoner Rebbe zt”l?). It is a difficult task on both sides for the writers and commentors to reserve restraint, lack of disdain for others and a respectful tone when addressing any and all issues. Keep on writing and responding…..
(**BTW on my last trip to Israel I went to visit the Orot Girls’ school)
I’m all for stopping the stereotyping and generalizations. But in all fairness, most writers on this blog are usually responding to the explicit (outrageous) public statements made by the relevant parties involved in the controversy and not simply doing an armchair assessment of the situation from afar. There are some exceptions though which fit your accusations.
Daniel: Whenever I post, it is from my McGill address. I imagine, however, that if Crosscurrents received a post from a Lawrence Kaplan with a g-mail address stating that, say, he totally agreed with Rabbi Meiselman’s attacks on Rabbi Slifkin and with his interpretations of his uncle’s views, they might be a tad suspicious!
One can only imagine what some would have said if most Cross-Currents writers, being in the United States, had refrained from comment about the murders at Mercaz HaRav. [Personally, I couldn’t find the words. Five other contributors did, and though the majority were thousands of miles away, I don’t think their sentiments resonated less.] As far as the situation in Emanuel, many of us commented about the situation (including myself), and it turned out that it was a guest writer — who lived in Israel — who misjudged.
Columnists comment. That’s what columnists do. I don’t claim to be a reporter… they have to blame themselves for their shallow misunderstandings of the issues! But in all seriousness, I hardly think one need visit Yad Vashem to discuss the Holocaust (and I very much doubt that Rabbi Teller would agree that before taking his tour one is unqualified to comment).
Do we get it wrong? Sure. And when I put my name to my work, I have to take my failures along with the successes.
“May I propose a solution far more ethical: that a 3rd party with no connection to the moderators vet all e-mail addresses to ensure they are legitimate.”
“It is true that anyone can make up a totally fake name, but that is sufficiently complex and rare”
Are we all talking at cross purposes here? When is an email address not legitimate !? Anyone can create a fake online name, a fake matching “legitimate” email address and go from there. The majority of online commenters do that, here and elsewhere. The commenters with fake sounding online names (Reb Yid) are actually being more honest about their fake online name than the commenters with real sounding online names (Bob Miller). And lets say you could to extreme lengths to verify people’s name, address, SSN etc. Az mah?! So I’m really Gershon Josephs and not Moshe Katz? Or Eli Cohen? Or Yaakov Goldstein? What difference?!
Gershon Josephs: The difference that if you post under your own name and write a a particularly nasty or mean comment, your friends, or your wife, or your children wil tell you that you should be ashamed of yourself. As Rabbi Menekn noted and as has been my experience as well, the great majotiy of really nasty comments come from anonymous bloggers. This is a davar yadua.
“Gershon Josephs” noted that I have a real-sounding online name. He is onto something. At birth, so many moons ago, I was precocious enough to give myself a generic English first name. This has enabled me to become lost online in a sea of Bob Millers.
It has also caused befuddlement in the workplace. At one job, I came into an organization whose manufacturing manager was also Bob Miller. The receptionist often routed calls to the wrong Bob Miller. In one such instance, the manufacturing manager told my wife, “we’ve got to stop meeting like this”. The receptionist, a bossy Brit also thought to be the company president’s mistress, ordered me to change my first name to make her life easier. In the end, she was persuaded to add our middle initials when routing calls and paging, which solved the problem.
Later, I discovered another Bob Miller in my field who shared the same middle initial. Once, at a conference in California, I got a phone call asking why I hadn’t shown up for a plant tour. The call, it developed, was meant for the other Bob Miller. We two were afterwards introduced by a former boss of mine who was also at the conference. At a later meeting, we two Bob Millers purposely sat next to one another to baffle people with our name badges.
My father Z”L once got a call from a distant cousin doing a massive family genealogy project. I also spoke to the cousin. I arranged to spend a Shabbos visiting the cousin in person; I stayed by his father who turned out to be…Bob Miller!
I want to express my total agreement with Rabbi Menken on this subject. Personally, I make it a point to sign my name to comments, for the following reasons:
1. To attempt to limit myself and avoid comments that might be offensive or insulting, and of which I may later be ashamed. It doesn’t always work, but it helps.
2. I occasionally put some thought into my comments, and have enough ego to want to get credit if someone thinks one of my comments is reasonably well written and makes a good point.
I believe the latter provides a good example of using the yezr hara for a good cause.